Autosuggestion - Thought And Will
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IF we can get the Unconscious to accept an idea, realisation follows automatically. The only difficulty which confronts us in the practice of Induced Autosuggestion is to ensure acceptation, and that is a difficulty which no method prior to that of Emile Coué has satisfactorily surmounted.
Every idea which enters the mind is charged, to a greater or less extent, with emotion. This emotional charge may be imperceptible, as with ideas to which we are indifferent, or it may be very great, as when the idea is closely related to our personal interests. All the ideas we are likely to make the subjects of Induced Autosuggestion are of the latter class, since they refer to health, energy, success or some goal equally dear to our hearts. The greater the degree of emotion accompanying an idea, the more potent is the autosuggestion resulting from it. Thus a moment of violent fright may give rise to effects which last a lifetime. This emotional factor also plays a large part in securing acceptation.
So far as one can see, the acceptation or rejection of an idea by the Unconscious depends on the associations with which it is connected. Thus, an idea is accepted when it evokes similar ideas charged with emotion of the same quality. It is rejected when it is associated with contrary ideas, which are, therefore, contrary in their emotional charge. In the latter case, the original idea is neutralised by its associations, somewhat in the same way as an acid is neutralised by an alkali. An example will serve to make this clearer.
You are on a cross-channel boat on a roughish passage. You go up to a sailor and say to him in a sympathetic tone: " My dear fellow, you're looking very ill. Aren't you going to be sea-sick? " According to his temperament he either laughs at your " joke" or expresses a pardonable irritation. But he does not become sick because the associations called up are contrary ones. Sea-sickness is associated in his mind with his own immunity from it, and therefore evokes not fear but self-confidence. Pursuing your somewhat in-humane experiment you approach a timid-looking passenger. " My dear sir, how ill you look ! I feel sure you are going to be sea-sick. Let me help you down below." He turns pale. The word " sea=sickness " associates itself with his own fears and forebodings. He accepts your aid down to his berth and there the pernicious autosuggestion is realised. In the first case the idea was refused, because it was overwhelmed by a contrary association; in the second the Unconscious accepted it, since it was reinforced by similar ideas from within.
But supposing to a sick mind, permeated with thoughts of disease, a thought of health is presented. How can we avoid the malassociation which tends to neutralise it?
We can think of the Unconscious as a tide which ebbs and flows. In sleep it seems to submerge the conscious altogether, while at our moments of full wakefulness, when the attention and will are both at work, the tide is at its lowest ebb. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediary levels.' When we are drowsy, dreamy, lulled into a gentle reverie by music or by a picture or a poem, the Unconscious tide is high; the more wakeful and alert we become the lower it sinks. This submersion of the conscious mind is called by Baudouin the " Outcropping of the Subconscious." The highest degree of outcropping, compatible with the conscious direction of our thoughts, occurs just before we fall asleep and just after we wake.
It is fairly obvious that the greater the outcropping the more accessible these dynamic strata of the mind become, and the easier it is to implant there any idea we wish to realise.
As the Unconscious tide rises the active levels of the mind are overflowed; thought is released from its task of serving our conscious aims in the real world of matter, and moves among the more primal wishes and desires which people the Unconscious, like a diver walking the strange world beneath the sea. But the laws by which thought is governed on this sub-surface level are not those of our ordinary waking consciousness. During outcropping association by contraries does not seem readily to take place. Thus the mat-association, which neutralised the desired idea and so prevented acceptation, no longer presents itself. We all know what happens during a " day-dream " or " brown-study," when the Unconscious tide is high. A succession of bright images glides smoothly through the mind. The original thought spins itself on and on; no obstacles seem to stop it, no questions of probability arise; we are cut off from the actual conditions of life and live in a world where all things are possible. These day-dreams cause very potent autosuggestions, and one should take care that they are wholesome and innocent but the important point is that on this level of consciousness association seems to operate by similarity, and emotion is comparatively intense. These conditions are highly favourable to acceptation.
If, on getting into bed at night, we assume a comfortable posture, relax our muscles and close our eyes, we fall naturally into a stage of semi-consciousness akin to that of day-dreaming. If now we introduce into the mind any desired idea, it is freed from the inhibiting associations of daily life, associates itself by similarity, and attracts emotion of the same quality as its own charge. The Unconscious is thus caused to accept it, and inevitably it is turned into an auto-suggestion. Every time we repeat this process the associative power of the idea is increased, its emotional value grows greater, and the autosuggestion resulting from it is more powerful. By this means we can in-duce the Unconscious to accept an idea, the normal associations of which are contrary and unfavourable. The person with a disease-soaked mind can gradually implant ideas of health, filling his Unconscious daily with healing thoughts. The instrument we use is Thought, and the condition essential to success is that the conscious mind shall be lulled to rest.
Systems which hitherto have tried to make use of autosuggestion have failed to secure reliable results because they did not place their reliance on Thought, but tried to compel the Unconscious to accept an idea by exercising the Will. Obviously, such attempts are doomed to failure. By using the will we automatically wake ourselves up, suppress the encroaching tide of the Unconscious, and thereby destroy the condition by which alone we can succeed.
It is worth our while to note more closely how this happens. A sufferer,- whose mind is filled with, thoughts of ill-health, sits down to compel himself to accept a good suggestion. He calls up a thought of health and makes an effort of the will to impress it on the Unconscious. This effort restores him to full wakefulness and so evokes the customary association disease. Consequently, he finds himself contemplating the exact opposite of what he desired. He summons his will again and recalls the healthful thought, but since he is now wider awake than ever, association is even more rapid and powerful than before. The disease-thought is now in full possession of his mind and all the efforts of his will fail to dislodge it. In-deed the harder he struggles the more fully the evil thought possesses him.
This gives us a glimpse of the new and startling discovery to which Coué's uniform success is due; namely, that when the will is in conflict with an idea, the idea invariably gains the day. This is true, of course, not only of Induced Autosuggestion, but also of the spontaneous suggestions which occur in daily life. A few examples will make this clear.
Most of us know how, when we have some difficult duty to perform, a chance word of discouragement will dwell in the mind, eating away our self-confidence and attuning our minds to failure. All the efforts of our will fail to throw it off; indeed, the more we struggle 'against it the more we become obsessed with it.
Very similar to this is the state of mind of the person suffering from stage-fright. He is obsessed with ideas of failure and all the efforts of his will are powerless to overcome them. Indeed, it is the state of effort and tension which makes his discomfiture so complete.
Sport offers many examples of the working of this law.
A tennis-player is engaged to play in an important match. He wishes, of course, to win, but fears that he will lose. Even before the day of the game his fears begin to realise themselves. He is nervy and "out of sorts." In fact, the Unconscious is creating the conditions best suited to realise the thought in his mind—failure. When the game begins his skill seems to have deserted him. He summons the re-sources of his will and tries to compel himself to play well, straining every nerve to recapture the old dexterity. But all his efforts only make him play worse and worse. The harder he tries the more signally he fails. The energy he calls up obeys not his will but the idea in his mind, not the desire to win but the dominant thought of failure.
The fatal attraction of the bunker for the nervous golfer is due to the same cause. With his mind's eye he sees his ball alighting in the most unfavourable spot. He may use any club he likes, he may make a long drive or a short; as long as the thought of the bunker dominates his mind, the ball will inevitably find its way into it. The more he calls on his will to help him, the worse his plight is likely to be. Success is not gained by effort but by right thinking. The champion golfer or tennis-player is not a person of herculean frame and immense will-power. His whole life has been dominated by the thought of success in the game at which he excels.
Young persons sitting for an examination some-times undergo this painful experience. On reading through their papers they find that all their knowledge has suddenly deserted them. Their mind, is an ap palling blank and not one relevant thought can they recall. The more they grit their teeth and summon the powers of the will, the further the desired ideas flee. But when they have left the examination-room and the tension relaxes, the ideas they were seeking flow tantalisingly back into the mind. Their forget-fulness was due to thoughts of failure previously nourished in the mind. The application of the will only made the disaster more complete.
This explains the baffling experience of the drug-taker, the drunkard, the victim of some vicious craving. His mind is obsessed by the desire for satisfaction. The efforts of the will to restrain it only make it more overmastering. Repeated failures convince him at length that he is powerless to control himself, and this idea, operating as an auto-suggestion, increases his impotence. So in despair, he abandons himself to his obsession, and his life ends in wreckage.
We can now see, not only that the Will is incapable of vanquishing a thought, but that as fast as the Will brings up its big guns, Thought captures them and turns them against it.
This truth, which Baudouin calls the Law of Re-versed Effort, is thus stated by Coué :
"When the Imagination and the Will are in conflict the Imagination invariably gains the day."
"In the conflict between the Will and the Imagination, the force of the Imagination is in direct ratio to the square of the Will."
The mathematical terms are used, of course, only metaphorically.
Thus the Will turns out to be, not the commanding monarch of life, as many people would have it, but a blind Samson, capable either of turning the mill or of pulling down the pillars.
Autosuggestion succeeds by avoiding conflict. It replaces wrong thought by right, literally applying in the sphere of science the principle enunciated in the New Testament : " Resist not evil, but overcome evil with good."
This doctrine is in no sense a negation of the will. It simply puts it in its right place, subordinates it to a higher power. A moment's reflection will suffice to show that the will cannot be more than the servant of thought. We are incapable of exercising the will unless the imagination has first furnished it with a goal. We cannot simply will, we must will something, and that something exists in our minds as an idea. The will acts rightly when it is in harmony with the-idea in the mind.
But what happens when, in the smooth execution of our idea, we are confronted with an obstacle? This obstacle may exist outside us, as did the golfer's bunker, but it must also exist as an idea in our minds or we should not be aware of it.
As long as we allow this mental image to stay there, the efforts of our will to overcome it only make it more irresistible. We run our heads against it like a goat butting a brick wall. Indeed, in this way we can magnify the smallest difficulty until it becomes insurmountable—we can make mole-hills into mountains. This is precisely what the neurasthenic does. The idea of a difficulty dwells unchanged in his mind, and all his efforts to overcome it only increase its dimensions, until it overpowers him and he faints in the effort to cross a street.
But as soon as we change the idea our troubles vanish. By means of the intellect we can substitute for the blank idea of the obstacle that of the means to overcome it. Immediately, the will is brought into harmony again with thought, and we go forward to the triumphant attainment of our end. It may be that the means adopted consist of a frontal attack, the overcoming of an obstacle by force. But before we bring this force into play, the mind must have approved it—must have entertained the idea of its probable success. We must, in fact, have thought of the obstacle as already smashed down and flattened out by our attack. Otherwise, we should' involve ourselves in the conflict depicted above, and our force would be exhausted in a futile internal battle. In a frontal attack against an obstacle we use effort, and effort, to be effective, must be approved by the reason and preceded, to some extent, by the idea of success.
Thus, even in our dealings with the outside world, Thought is always master of the will. How much more so when our action is turned inward ! When practising autosuggestion we are living in the mind, where thoughts are the only realities. We can meet with no obstacle other than that of Thought itself. Obviously then, the frontal attack, the exertion of effort, can never be admissible, for it sets the will and the thought at once in opposition. The turning of our thoughts from the mere recognition of an obstacle to the idea of the means to overcome it, is no longer a preliminary, as in the case of outward action. In itself it clears away the obstacle. By procuring the right idea our end is already attained.
In applying effort during the practice of Induced Autosuggestion, we use in the world of mind an in strument fashioned for use in the world of matter. It is as if we tried to solve a mathematical problem by mauling the book with a tin-opener.
For two reasons then, effort must never be allowed to intrude during the practice of autosuggestion: first because it wakes us up and so suppresses the tide of the Unconscious, secondly because it causes conflict between Thought and the will.
One other interesting fact emerges from an examination of the foregoing examples. In each case we find that the idea which occupied the mind was of a final state, an accomplished fact. The golfer was thinking of his ball dropping into the bunker, the tennis-player of his defeat, the examinee of his failure. In each case the Unconscious realised the thought in its own way, chose inevitably the means best suited to arrive at its end—the realisation of the idea. In the case of the golfer the most delicate physical adjustments were necessary. Stance, grip and swing all contributed their quota, but these physical adjustments were performed unconsciously, the conscious mind being unaware of them. From this we see that we need not suggest the way in which our aim is to be accomplished. If we fill our minds with the thought of the desired end, provided that end is possible, the Unconscious will lead us to it by the easiest, most direct path.
Here we catch a glimpse of the truth behind what is called " luck." We are told that everything comes to him who waits, and this is literally true, provided he waits in the right frame of mind. Some men are notoriously lucky in business; whatever they touch seems to " turn to gold." The secret of their success lies in the fact that they confidently expect to succeed.
There is no need to go so far as the writers of the school of " New Thought," and claim that suggestion can set in motion transcendental laws outside man's own nature. It is quite clear that the man who expects success, of whatever kind it may be, will unconsciously take up the right attitude to his environment; will involuntarily close with fleeting opportunity, and by his inner fitness command the circumstances with-out.
Man has often been likened to a ship navigating the seas of life. Of that ship the engine is the will and Thought is the helm. If we are being directed out of our true course it is worse than useless to call for full steam ahead ; our only hope lies in changing the direction of the helm.